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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 23 June 2021) . . Page.. 1932 ..

permits a defence to defamation claims where the material is substantially true or has elements of truth and where expert views were sought to verify the information.

While the changes ensure greater protection of freedom of speech, defamation law in the ACT will continue to provide substantial protection for an individual’s reputation. This will continue to ensure that limitations on an individual’s right to reputation are reasonable and proportionate. In this way, the bill enables views to be expressed more freely without the threat of defamation action, while ensuring a person’s reputation is protected from serious damage as a result of publication of untrue or unverified material.

As the Attorney-General said in his opening remarks, striking the appropriate balance between the right to reputation and the right to freedom of expression is of fundamental importance in a human rights jurisdiction like the ACT. The bill achieves this in such a way that fits within the ACT legal environment and ensures compatibility with human rights. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

MS DAVIDSON (Murrumbidgee—Assistant Minister for Seniors, Veterans, Families and Community Services, Minister for Disability, Minister for Justice Health and Minister for Mental Health) (11.33): I am pleased to speak in support of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill 2021. The bill enacts the model defamation amendment provisions in the ACT by amending chapter 9 of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002. These amendments will improve defamation laws in the ACT and will ensure that the law strikes an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and freedom of reputation, particularly in relation to matters of public interest.

The reforms in this bill address the increasing use of defamation law for trivial and vexatious matters. The introduction of a serious harm threshold will place the onus on the plaintiff to prove that the publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation. Accordingly, there is no need for the defendant to prove that the defamatory material is unlikely to cause the plaintiff harm. Additional mechanisms incorporated in this bill will ensure that this threshold question is determined as soon as practicable before litigation commences, to facilitate the quick resolution of matters.

In a situation where, for example, an unemployed activist tweets his honest opinion, on a matter he believes to be in the public interest, about a federal government minister with more than 10 times as many Twitter followers as the activist as well as easy access to a national mainstream media platform, the federal government minister would have to demonstrate that the serious harm threshold had been met before litigation could commence. These changes will reduce the risk of defamation laws being used by those with power to intimidate and harass those with less power, and will support freedom of expression. I commend this bill.

MS VASSAROTTI (Kurrajong) (11.35): I am pleased to support the Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill 2021. I would like to speak to this bill as it impacts those who are here to fight and protect the environment in Australia, something which, as will be no surprise to anyone here, the ACT Greens support. The bill, amongst other things which my colleague Shane Rattenbury has spelled out previously, introduces a new public interest defence to provide a defence of responsible communication on a

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